‘Mayor of Bear Prairie,’ city of Washougal at impasse over restaurant permitting requirements

Joe Webster has everything he needs to open a barbecue eatery on his property except one thing: the city’s permission

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Washougal resident Joe Webster points to a section of the blueprint design he created for the seasonal outdoor barbecue restauarant he hopes to open on his "E" Street property. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

When Joe Webster set out to open an outdoor barbecue restaurant on his Washougal property, he thought he had everything ready to go.

After all, Webster had the land. He had the equipment, employees, food supply chains and a devoted customer base.

The only thing he needed was permission from the city of Washougal.

“I’m in a hurry and I’m on hold,” Webster said. “I’ve got so much that I need to do, and I want to just go, go, go. But I got stopped right there. I’ve done everything I can … now it’s time to go in with the wallet.”

Webster wants to open the restaurant, which he plans to call “Wood Yard,” on the site of his current business, Joe’s Stump Grinding and Tractor Work at 740 “E” St.

The city said he will need to pave the entrance to his gravel parking lot, but Webster said that requirement doesn’t make sense.

“I have a log truck that comes in, (and other) equipment that goes through here,” Webster explained. “My log truck would just tear all the asphalt out. My excavator would ruin the asphalt, and the asphalt would ruin the tracks on the excavator. It’s not practical.”

Webster said he also takes issue with the city’s request to install a stormwater filtration system to remove oils from the asphalt.

“There’s never any standing water here. I put a lot of gravel in here,” Webster said. “To create a filtration system to capture the contaminants off the asphalt doesn’t make sense when there’s no contaminants now because there is no asphalt. You’re creating pollution. Why create pollution and filter it and put it back into the ground when there never was any in the first place?”

Washougal’s municipal code requires a lot to be “graded to ensure proper drainage, pursuant to the Washougal engineering standards for public works construction, surfaced with concrete, asphalt or permeable pavement, and maintained in good condition free of obstructions.”

City staff said they have not been able to find a solution to the impasse with Webster.

“I can’t see a way that we get away from paved parking. I just can’t,” said Mitch Kneipp, the city of Washougal’s community development director. “The maneuvering area for his trucks — possibly, possibly we could look at that. But big trucks drive on pavement a lot, so it can be done. Show me that it can’t be done or that it’s cost-prohibitive for your project and maybe I can look at it. But just to say, ‘I don’t want it? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work.”

While the city’s code allows for up to five unpaved parking spaces. Webster is asking for 23.

“There’s an aesthetic value that our council has as a priority for us,” Kneipp said. “There are reasons why we have codes. And this is not a new code. This code has been around for a long time. I feel for him and completely understand what he’s going through. There’s just not a variance I can grant.”

And as for the filtration system, Kneipp says Webster doesn’t have much of a choice.

“He has to do that anyway. That’s a state law,” Kneipp said. “Even if by some miracle he could get it all to be gravel, he’d still have to do that. We do stormwater plans for individual houses now. That’s state-mandated.”

The affable Webster, a lifelong resident of East Clark County who is known as “the mayor of Bear Prairie”‘ due to the fact that he knows “just about everyone in town,” has operated the log yard since 2013. Over the past several years he’s worked to add a sense of ambiance, creating an outdoor seating area with hand-crafted wood tables and chairs and installing a waterfall garden fountain in the southwest corner of the 1-acre property.

He’s even erected a small stage with a piano that he could envision people using for live music sessions.

“(I’ve been thinking about opening a restaurant) for quite a while,” Webster said the idea of opening a restaurant on the property is something he has been thinking about for a long time.

Webster’s menu would feature wood-fired ribeye steaks, loaded baked potatoes, garlic toast and coleslaw. He has renovated the property’s 116-year-old single-story house to use for food preparation and indoor dining.

“This is a beautiful piece of property on the main drag,” Webster said. “People pull in here and ask, ‘Joe, how much longer until the barbecue? I want to be your first customer.’ I have all of this community support. They just want it. They just think it would be so neat.”

But for now, the situation is at a standstill. Webster said he won’t pave his parking lot and the city said it won’t allow him to open without it.

“It’s a dead end,” Webster said.

Asked what else he could possibly do to help end the stalemate with the city, Webster stood silent for a moment and then shrugged, saying: “I’d just go home. I’d say, ‘Well, I gave it a shot.'”